Poll numbers show Gibbons climbing out of credibility hole
June 20, 2007
Although it’s often attributed to him, evidence suggests Mark Twain didn’t say, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that frees up the clever remark for fair and appropriate use by Gov. Jim Gibbons.
Without fear of being accused of plagiarism, Gibbons can step up and acknowledge to Nevadans from Battle Mountain to Boulder City that, despite rampant rumors to the contrary and that powerfully gamy smell that wafted from his administration only a few weeks ago, his first term in office is very much alive. And he has the polling numbers to prove it.
A statewide survey conducted by Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the Nevada Republican Party shows Gibbons is rebounding after successfully navigating his first Legislature as the state’s chief executive.
Bolger’s company interviewed 500 voters June 12 and 13, and the poll is considered accurate to within 4.4 percentage points.
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Gibbons’ favorable rating has risen to 49 percent with 41 percent of those surveyed having an unfavorable opinion. And 48 percent approve of his job performance with 42 percent disapproving.
It’s not exactly time for him to pull out the horns and streamers, but it shows Gibbons isn’t the political roadkill his enemies have been describing. By Gibbons’ standards, he’s hanging 10 on a wave of popularity.
“It seems to me that politics is all about, ‘What have you done for me lately?'” Bolger says. “I think voters are saying he’s done a pretty decent job as governor once the focus turned to governing. … It took him a little bit, but he got his feet underneath him, and it was a strong finish after a relatively rocky beginning.”
Rocky beginning. That Bolger, he’s the prince of understatement.
Just weeks into his first term, Gov. Tanglefoot couldn’t catch a break. If he wasn’t being embarrassed by front-page exposés in The Wall Street Journal over his relationship as a congressman with military contractor Warren Trepp, he was being blasted on national television as “America’s worst governor.”
Copper mines leave shallower holes than the one Gibbons had dug himself. A Review-Journal poll taken just before the general election showed him with just a 41 percent favorable rating. Just a few weeks later, it appeared that would be Gibbons’ highest mark.
In March, following a batch of unfavorable press, a Pennsylvania pollster tracked Gibbons with a 29 percent approval rating. A month later, the Reno Gazette-Journal measured it at 30 percent.
In May, a Review-Journal-sponsored survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research measured Gibbons’ favorable rating at just 28 percent, compared with 38 percent unfavorable. That’s down in Bush and Cheney country.
But Gibbons kept his promise not to raise taxes and carved out small victories at the Legislature for his school empowerment and transportation agendas. That’s paying dividends, and he’s rocketing up to the middle.
“He stuck to the issues that he believed were important to the campaign and was successful,” observes political consultant Jim Denton, who worked with the Gibbons campaign. “He was not distracted by the rest of it. He remained focused on what he wanted to accomplish. He was willing to fight for what he believed in regardless of what the poll numbers showed. What I find amusing is that he was able to accomplish his goals with those low approval numbers out there.”
Will those numbers keep improving?
“He’s being judged now on what he’s doing as governor,” Bolger says. “There’s still work to be done. It’s a huge improvement, but you don’t go from the bottom to the top in one fell swoop. You want to see a governor with an approval rating of over 50 percent. I’m sure the governor is not going to rest on his laurels.”
And that’s not just because his laurels are so small and delicate.
Bolger likened Gibbons’ resuscitation to a scene from “The Princess Bride” in which a character is “not dead, but mostly dead.” The character eventually recovers.
“He’s not fully back, but he’s sure a lot better off than he was,” Bolger says.
With that, we’ll end with something Mark Twain actually did say. Back in 1902, he scrawled in his notebook, “Everybody’s private motto: It’s better to be popular than right.”
For the record, I’ve never heard a politician admit that.
• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at email@example.com or call (702) 383-0295.